Gallery/Woman on Wheels: If I can do it...
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I’m not particularly fit and I’ve owned a bike for less than three months, but I’m joining the chain gang, says Mariam Ghaemi
Until recently I was not brave enough to face cycling on the roads for fear of being squashed under a bus or lorry.
Yet I now find I have signed up to a female-only event, aptly-named Women on Wheels, which will involve me pedalling away for 50 miles, let’s say around five hours, in the west Suffolk countryside in July.
I say “find” as I can’t quite believe I’ve done it; I’m not particularly fit, I don’t have that competitive drive when it comes to cycling, and I have owned a bike for less than three months.
But I happen to be exactly the sort of person Women on Wheels is aimed at: a woman.
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While I generally don’t agree with the idea of gender-specific events, Joseph Young, Cycle Suffolk project co-ordinator for Suffolk Sport, explained that his brainchild developed out of the discrepancy between the numbers of men and women cycling once a week in the county – standing at about 10% of men but only 2.9% of women.
“The whole concept was how to get more women cycling, and what are the barriers in getting them cycling?” he said.
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“I think, particularly for women, for a significant proportion of women, there are those that don’t want those competitive events with men in Lycra and £1,000 bikes. For a lot of women they just want to get on their bike and cycle.
“These Women on Wheels events are a good opportunity for women to get on their bikes in a friendly environment.”
Another important aspect to the challenge is that it will be raising money for a very worthy cause – St Nicholas Hospice Care.
Many people locally will either have been supported by this Bury St Edmunds-based charity or know someone who has.
The inaugural Women on Wheels event in Bury last year raised £3,268.58 for the hospice, and this year 100% of the profits are being donated to the charity.
My column, Woman on Wheels, in EA Life and on the East Anglian Daily Times and Bury Mercury websites, will tell the story of my progress as I get to grips with two wheels, roads and training, and will hopefully inspire more women to sign up to Women on Wheels.
n To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/mariamg
n Follow me on Twitter at @mariamghaemi
It’s not all going to be uphill!
When I arrived at the launch event for Women on Wheels at Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre on Sunday, the first thing I saw was a group of women wearing all the gear and speeding round the track on racing bikes.
Perched on my hybrid model, I thought ‘is this for me?’ but straight away I was greeted with smiles and welcomed into the fold (apparently more novice cyclists had been there earlier in the day).
I was surprised by the wide demographic, from girls to women in their 60s, and after chatting to a few of the older ladies I quite frankly felt inspired.
Lesley Linden, from Great Barton, who was coaching the training session at the launch, is aged 56 and has qualified for Great Britain in the duathlon (which involves running, cycling and more running).
She said: “I was saying to some of the ladies, ‘if you can do it at my age...’”
The former PE teacher told me she had been working with schools to try and inspire young people and they ended up inspiring her.
Mrs Linden was very encouraging when I admitted I had actually signed up for 50 miles, as was retired company director Ann Williamson, 65, who organises local bike rides for women and is involved in planning the Women on Wheels route.
The British Cycling Breeze champion, who is a grandmother, has invited me to join her for 20-mile rides, which will be an invaluable part of my training.
I have been reassured Women on Wheels will involve some stops, and it’s not all uphill (well, this is Suffolk after all).
At this stage, I need all the reassurance I can get.
Women on Wheels
Women on Wheels is being organised by Abbeycroft Leisure in partnership with St Nicholas Hospice Care, Suffolk Sport, Cycle Suffolk and event sponsor Revels Outdoors.
You have to be aged eight or over to take part and under 16s can ride for free when accompanied by a paying adult.
People can choose to do five, 20 or 50 miles.
To register visit www.stnicholashospice.org.uk/wow. Entry is £15.